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Book Reviews

Holiday Books

By Mary Quattlebaum

babies / tots

A Moon of My Own

The wonders of the night-time natural world are on beautiful display in this lyrical book by Jennifer Rustgi. Stunning artwork by Ashley White reveals a little girl in rain boots traipsing ‘round the world in a dreamy adventure guided by the moon. Both child and key elements (Antarctic penguin colony, African savannah) are in silhouette against a subtle palette of shadowy deep violets and blues. The book is perfect for a Winter Solstice celebration and year-round bedtime read-aloud. Children and parents will be further entertained and enlightened by the four pages of substantive back matter that includes brief descriptions of the places visited, explanation of the phases of the moon and art activities.

ages 3 – 7

Santa’s Underwear

Giggles will greet this lively tale by local author Marty Rhodes Figley. Santa can’t find his special pair of saggy, baggy underwear. Pink Valentine’s Day boxers and green shamrock long johns prove inadequate substitutes. His Thanksgiving tighty-whiteys are now too tight. What is he to do? Luckily, Rudolph and his reindeer crew engineer the perfect solution. With a round, expressive Santa and team of rambunctious elves, this art will turn giggles into guffaws. Look for a surprise redux of all of Santa’s undies in the final spread. This delightful book is sure to become a classic, with kids clamoring for it throughout the season.

A Hanukkah with Mazel

Misha, a poor painter, discovers a thin little cat in his barn and shares his meager Hanukkah celebration with her. He names her Mazel, the Jewish term for “good luck.” When a knock at the door brings a peddler into his home, kind Misha realizes his luck has, indeed, turned for the better, thanks to the cat he befriended. Joel Edward Stein’s oral storytelling voice in this endearing tale is perfectly complemented by Elisa Vavouri’s whimsical, folk-style paintings.

The Great Spruce

Alec loves the great spruce that his grandfather planted as a sapling many years ago. He loves to climb it and report what he has seen to his grandfather. When a crew wants to cut it down and transport it to the city, to become a giant Christmas tree, Alec persuades them to borrow the tree, instead. At the city celebration, Alec gives out cones so that others can grow trees as stately and amazing as his. Through his lovely Christmas story, John Duvall, an avid tree advocate, honors the natural world, and that spirit is echoed in Rebecca Gibbons’ vivid acrylic illustrations, which depict the spruce as a vital part of a thriving ecosystem that includes birds, butterflies and squirrels.


A sturdy little donkey tells the Christmas story of a baby’s birth in Bethlehem and the family’s flight to Egypt as danger closed in. The poetic, minimal text by Anne Booth emphasizes the helpfulness of shepherds along the way and the parents’ worries. Would they be welcome in a new country? Could they find safety there, and a home? Sam Usher’s pen-and-ink illustrations, with washes of blue and yellow, help to set a quiet, thoughtful mood for this tale of hope and kindness – which can be read both as a Christmas tale and parable for the refugee crisis today.

ages 8 – 12

Tiny Stitches

In this compelling picture-book biography, medical pioneer Vivien Thomas embodies the Kwanzaa principles of Kujichagulia (self-determination) and Ujima (collective work and responsibility). As a boy in Nashville, Vivien learned the importance of precision as he worked with his carpenter father, and he dreamed of studying medicine. He began working in a medical lab at Vanderbilt University, which in the 1920s and 30s was a white-only college. He became a highly skilled, highly praised research technician, but he faced much prejudice, including the wage and job title of “janitor” for his work and the jealousy of white colleagues. Gwendolyn Hooks brings a strong sense of Vivien’s struggle, persistence and accomplishments to the page, and Colin Bootman renders Vivien’s life and times in sweeping watercolors.

Taking Action for Civil and Political Rights

The holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa kindle hopes for peace and positive change throughout the world. This book by Eric Braun celebrates those actively helping to create that change. Braun describes the work of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, who founded the Black Lives Matter movement, and Lucas Benitez, who established an organization to end the exploitation of farm workers. Julia Bluhm protested the use of photoshopped images of teen girls in Seventeen magazine, with the message that young women weren’t deemed “pretty” unless they were tall, thin and blemish free. Most importantly, Braun includes suggestions for young readers on how they might move past individual feelings of frustration and anger at social injustice to create community around important issues and to help initiate change. As he points out, “You don’t have to be a particular type of person to be an activist.” You can write letters to politicians, start a blog, spread the word to friends, family and schoolmates or organize a protest, he says. You should “pick the ones that best fit your personality and skills.”

Mary Quattlebaum is the author of 24 award-winning children’s books, most recently “Together Forever: True Tales of Amazing Animal Friendships,” and a popular school/conference speaker.